Best xiaolongbao restaurants in Shanghai

Best xiaolongbao restaurants in Shanghai

Nothing tastes more Shanghai than a plate of these little pockets of savory meatballs

Although all flour-wrapped, meat- or vegetable-filled Chinese snacks are known as “dumplings” to the world, each of them has a distinctive Chinese name and history, and xiaolongbao, or xiaolong, is hands down the most distinguished homegrown dumpling for Shanghai.

In fact, xiaolongbao -- which were supposedly invented by a street vendor in the late 19th century -- have become so popular that they are a Chinese food icon in Asia and around the world.

Here are five of the best locations in Shanghai to hunt down the most authentic taste of the soup dumplings -- and each of them has stood the test of time.

Nan Xiang Xiaolong Mantou (南翔小笼馒头)

xiaolongbao -- nanxiangThis venue boasts all the xiaolongbao experience one could expect: long queues, yummy dumplings and swift xiaolong makers folding furiously behind the glass.

Nan Xiang Xiaolong Mantou near the City God Temple (城隍庙) in Shanghai’s old town is more than 100 years old. It is the classic introductory experience to some of the best xiaolongbao, the city’s most iconic food.

Take it all in: the jostling crowds, the long lines (in case you missed the Shanghai World Expo) and the dexterous dumpling makers folding furiously behind the glass.

We recommend you skip takeaway (first floor) and the casual second floor dining level, and go straight to the third floor, where the Shanghainese waitresses are a little more experienced. 

Put up with the crowds and try this historic xiaolongbao shop just once. Nanxiang’s crab roe-filled xiaolong are decadent but balanced in flavor with an extra hint of scallion. They are especially good during the hairy crab, or dazha crab, season in September and October.

The skins of Nanxiang xiaolongbao are of moderate thickness and the dumplings of ample size. Just remember to avoid the ridiculous “giant xiaolongbao” filled entirely with fatty broth that you suck out with a straw. Not worth your dignity.

More on CNNGo: Shanghai's best hairy crab dishes

Nan Xiang Xiaolong Mantou, 85 Yuyuan Lao Lu, near Fuyou Lu 豫园老路85号, 近福佑路, + 86 21 6355 4206, 7:30 a.m.-9 p.m.

De Xing Guan (德兴馆)

xiaolongbao -- dexingguanDe Xing Guan's xiaolongbao has filled up Shanghai bellies since the Qing dynasty.

“The chef must be in love,” jokes Restaurant Review magazine editor Rica Lou (娄睿佳), who recommends the venue. “These xiaolongbao have gotten sweeter and better.”

At De Xin Guan, a well-known noodle shop that’s been filling up Shanghai bellies since the Qing dynasty, they serve a traditional Shanghai xiaolongbao with a rich meat filling that is almost as popular as De Xin Guan's signature dishes: pork trotter noodles and mini wontons in soup.

De Xing Guan’s xiaolongbao are juicy and of good value -- expect a generous size and a big flavor from the rich, fatty pork filling and a thicker, Shanghainese style xiaolongbao skin to hold it in.

The regular pork xiaolongbao alongside a bowl of green onion-topped chicken and duck blood soup make for a cheap and tasty breakfast.

More on CNNGoShanghai's oldest restaurants

De Xin Guan, 471 Guangdong Lu, near Fujian Zhong Lu 广东路471号, 近福建中路, +86 21 6352 2535, 6:30 a.m-9:30 p.m.

Fu Chun (富春)

xiaolongbao -- fu chunThese porky Fu Chun xiaolongbao are a steal at RMB 4 for six.

“Fu Chun is the closest you can get nowadays to an authentic xiaolongbao,” explains Shanghai food critic Shen Hongfei (沈宏非).

“What most shops sell these days are not xiaolongbao, but Nanjing tangbao [Nanjing soup dumplings] marketed as xiaolongbao. These are the soup-filled dumplings with very thin skin, like the kind you find at Jia Jia Tang Bao.”

Now you know why Fu Chun is always full of locals -- they enjoy the authentic Shanghai xiaolongbao prepared just as they might remember it from childhood.

At the popular location, the xiaolongbao are indeed meatier. The pork filling is lean, brightly savory and bouncier, tasting of rice wine and soy sauce. 

But in the end, this dumpling battle is about whether your taste buds prefer meaty and savory or rich and soupy -- there's no right or wrong here, just delicious xiaolongbao.

For the authentic and best xiaolongbao, Fu Chun's pork incarnations are a steal at RMB 4 for six.

More on CNNGoShanghai's fiercest food critic Shen Hongfei's 10 best restaurants

Fu Chun, 650 Yuyuan Lu, near Zhenning Lu 愚园路650号, 近镇宁路 +86 21 6252 5117, 6:30 a.m.-midnight

Long Pao Xie Fen Dumplings (龙袍蟹粉小笼馆)

xiaolongbao -- qibaoThese xiaolongbao are one of the reasons why Shanghainese regularly make the trip to Qibao water town.

We’re not suggesting that you need to go all the way to Qibao for some of the best xiaolongbao, but don’t miss the crab roe xiaolong (RMB18 for a bamboo basket) in the minuscule two-table “restaurant” on the edge of Qibao bridge, while you’re sampling the stinky tofu, kebabs, rice cakes and the numerous other snacks the Shanghai water town is known for.

The chef is up at 6 a.m., serving the Taichi grandpas and grandmas who like to wolf down their hearty breakfast by the river.

The xiaolongbao here fall somewhere between the Shanghai-style xiaolongbao and Nanjing tangbao and each basket is freshly steamed for each customer.

The broth is clear-tasting without extra soy -- it’s the rare xiaolongbao that manages to go down light, so you can gulp down two baskets without feeling queasy.

More on CNNGoBest Shanghai food walk: Qibao Old Street

Long Pao Xie Fen Dumplings (龙袍蟹粉小笼馆), 15 Qi Bao Lao Jie Bei Da Jie 七宝老街北大街15号, no telephone

Din Tai Fung (鼎泰丰)

xiaolongbao -- Din Tai FungThese are probably the most famous xiaolongbaos in the world.

Din Tai Fung is synonymous with the best xiaolongbao the world over and for good reason: its crab roe soup dumplings are divine.

You can watch the chefs making xiaolongbao in the open kitchen every day, each soup dumpling coming filled to its 18-folds crown with hot, porky broth. We recommend the crab roe and pork dumplings, which come with a hearty filling of creamy roe and pork.

Now employ some deft chopstick kung fu to get these dumplings and their delectable fillings in your mouth and away from your shirt -- the skins are that thin and delicate.

More on CNNGo11 top snacking options in Shanghai

Din Tai Fung, multiple locations, 2/F, Unit 11A South Block, Xintiandi, 123 Xingye Lu, near Huangpi Nan Lu 兴业路123弄新天地南里6号楼2楼11A单元, 近黄陂南路, +86 21 6385 8378, Monday to Thursday: 11 a.m.-3 p.m., 5 p.m.-midnight; Friday: 11 a.m.-3 p.m. and 5 p.m.-1 a.m.; Saturday and Sunday: 11 a.m.-1 a.m.

Jia Jia Tang Bao

jia jia tang bao xiaolongbaoJia Jia Tang Bao has a strict "first come, first served" policy -- get there late, no xiaolongbao for you. ​These soup dumplings are delicately folded by a team of all-female chefs before getting whisked to the steamers and, finally, served piping hot to tables of eager patrons.

Jia Jia, as it's lovingly called, is widely considered one of the best shops in town -- and in a city of people who love (and nitpick) xiaolongbao with a passion.

It's no surprise then that Jia Jia maintains an incredible 24 out of 30 for flavor on dianping.

On any given day, you'll see crowds of both foreigners and locals chowing down on baskets of the delicious crab roe xiaolongbao.

The locale on Huanghe Lu is still the best of this chain. Just make sure to get in early -- Jia Jia closes as soon as it runs out of xiaolongbao, sometimes by late afternoon.

Jia Jia Tang Bao, multiple locations, 90 Huanghe Lu, near Fengyang Lu 黄河路90号, 近凤阳路, +86 21 6327 6878, hours 6:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Simon's Test Kitchen

Simon's Test Kitchen xiaolongbaoDon't let the colors fool you, Simon's Test Kitchen is serious about xiaolongbao. For the best experience at Simon's though, stick to the basic white xiaolongbao -- they might not be colorful, but they make up for it in flavor.
As often happens in this industry, several chefs will leave one restaurant and bring their delicious trade secrets somewhere new. In this case, those several chefs left Din Tai Feng and are now folding xiaolongbao at Simon Test Kitchen.

Just like the originals, Simon's xiaolongbao are delectable, with ultra-thin skin enclosing brilliant orange crab roe and clean porky broth. You even get delicate copycat ginger slivers in high-quality black vinegar for dipping. Yet, Simon’s has one distinct advantage: its prices are less than half of Din Tai Fung's.

Simon Test Kitchen (小黑试验厨房), The Point Jing’an Building, 561 Anyuan Lu, near Jiaozhou Lu, 安远路561号静安门大厦1楼, 近胶州路, +86 21 3353 3977, hours: 10 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.

De Xin Guan

de xin guan xiaolongbaoXiaolongbao for breakfast? De Xin Guan will make you a believer. ​“The chef must be in love,” jokes Galan Canting magazine editor Rica Lou. “These xiaolongbao have gotten sweeter and better.”

At De Xin Guan, a well known noodle shop, they serve a traditional Shanghai xiaolongbao with a rich meat filling that is almost as well known as De Xin's pork trotter noodles and mini wontons in soup.

The regular pork xiaolongbao alongside a bowl of green onion-topped blood soup make for a cheap, tasty breakfast.

De Xin Guan, 471 Guangdong Lu, near Fujian Lu 广东路471号, 近福建路, +86 21 6352 2535, hours: 6:30 a.m to 9:30 p.m.

Fu Chun

fu chun xiaolongbaoFor true xiaolongbao like your Shanghainese grandma made (or at least the Shanghainese grandma you wanted to have), grab a steamer at Fu Chun. ​​“Fu Chun is the closest you can get nowadays to an authentic xiaolongbao,” explains food critic Shen Hongfei. “What most shops sell these days are not xiaolongbao, but Nanjing tangbao [Nanjing soup dumplings] marketed as xiaolongbao. These are the soup-filled dumplings with very thin skin, like the kind you find at Jia Jia Tang Bao or Din Tai Fung.”

Restaurant consultant and chef Anthony Zhao explains how to distinguish between real-deal xiaolongbao and the Nanjing tangbao import: “In a tangbao, the dumpling will sag between your chopsticks because of the soup. For a Shanghainese xiaolongbao, the filling should be like one big meatball with a bit of soup. The skin should be a bit thicker than tangbao, but not as thick as in shengjian [pan-fried dumpling].”

Now you know why Fu Chun is always full of locals -- they enjoy the authentic Shanghai xiaolongbao prepared just as they might remember it from childhood.

At the popular Fu Chun, the xiaolongbao are indeed meatier. The pork filling is lean, brightly savory and bouncier, tasting of rice wine and soy sauce. In comparison, Din Tai Fung and Jia Jia's soup dumplings have a much more delicate, fatty flavor.

But in the end, this dumpling battle is about whether your taste buds prefer meaty and savory or rich and soupy -- there's no right or wrong here, just delicious xiaolongbao.

For the authentic xiaolongbao, Fu Chun's pork incarnations are a steal at RMB 4 for six.

Fu Chun, 650 Yuyuan Lu, near Zhenning Lu 愚园路650号, 近镇宁路 +86 21 6252 5117, hours: 6:30 a.m. to midnight

Joanne Yao is a writer and editor based in Shanghai.
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